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Trails And Ways Bring Global Sounds To Stritch

In Music
Around the world: The members of the Oakland-based indie quartet Trails and Ways draw influence from all over the world—especially Brazil.

Around the world: The members of the Oakland-based indie quartet Trails and Ways draw influence from all over the world—especially Brazil.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve been a hardcore punk my whole life,” says Keith Brown, guitarist for Oakland’s border-crossing, blog-darling band, Trails and Ways. Before forming Trails and Ways with three other UC Berkeley alums, he had an appreciation for punk—an admission some might not expect from a member of a band now renowned for its expansively chill, sun-and-surf-and-distant-squawk-of-seagulls vibe. Nonetheless, Brown sees a clear connection between the “direct structure” of early punk and his group’s “visceral hooks.”

Influenced equally by Berkeley’s tradition of social involvement and the patient rhythm of South America, Trails and Ways got their start in the East Bay in 2010, after Brown, bassist Emma Oppen, guitarist Hannah Van Loon and drummer Ian Quirk all graduated from Cal.

Every member of the band had done some traveling by then, and all had paid close attention to the arrangements, song structures and vibes of the varied musical traditions they encountered along the way. Upon their return, they put it all together to become Trails and Ways, a hazy, unhurried, and at times harrowing tribute to tunes from across the globe. They cut a few wispy, shimmering singles, which eventually hit the blogosphere and picked up steam, making them one of the most blogged-about bands of the early 2010s. The singles turned to a collection of up-to-the-minute pop covers (they’re famous for their chilled-out reworking of M83’s “Midnight City”) and debut EP in 2013, and soon—very soon, Brown promises—there will be a full-length record.

On “Mtn Tune” highlife guitars dance around a shimmying Latin rhythm and a fuzzy, syncopated bass line which sounds like it might have been stolen from a Diplo dancehall anthem.

The video for “Tereza” opens with shots of palm-studded beaches and wildly colored marine life swimming through bright blue tropical waters, before transitioning to dusty, dry deserts and bright white icebergs.

It’s hard to get through any interview, article or blog post about Trails and Ways without seeing a reference to traditional Brazilian music—the band themselves cite Brazil as a major influence—but they also carry with them a sharp sense of pop.

“In addition to a lot of Brazilian music, there’s a lot of ’70s and ’60s music we (draw inspiration from),” Brown says. “There’s a whole history of pop music we want to weave together into our own thing.”

Even if they don’t come directly from punk music, they have all been steeped in punk culture. Every member of the band lived in a co-op house in Berkeley at one time or another.

“For me it was really formative—(living) in the coop houses,” Brown says. Living in those environs, the band members learned to construct an insular society, and was just as much a lesson as anything they were absorbing on campus.

Living in Berkeley and travelling the world has also informed the band’s political views, which they share with traditional punk movements. “Our conscience and political beliefs show up in the music and that’s something we figure out as we go,” Brown says. “I’m really interested in the social justice side of climate change. I’m personally very alarmed about the state of the climate. No matter what else happens, if we don’t get our act seriously together, 100 years from now…” he trails off.

Even though they’re known for being a worldly band, they have no plans of leaving the Bay Area. “There’s just an amazing community of friends (here),” says Brown. “I can’t imagine trying to live anywhere else.

“What we do is so interdependent on the help of our friends. The feeling I get in a lot of other music scenes—I get the sense there’s very much a, like, don’t give a fuck, don’t care too much attitude,” he says after stopping to think for a moment. “I feel like in a lot of the scenes of the Bay Area, there’s a strong sense of confidence. It’s not bad to show that you care about (your) message, care about your art.”

As confident as Trails and Ways may be with their message, it’s easy for it to fade into the background of a reverb-soaked, hook-heavy track like “Nunca.” And that’s OK, too. “I want our music to be something you feel in your body,” says Brown. “Something that makes you feel more in love, more…” he trails off.

Trails and Ways play Cafe Stritch on Feb. 20 at 8:30pm. More info.

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